I haven’t been feeling close to Jesus.
I know he’s there. I get that. And I know He never leaves me. I get that too.
But still. I don’t feel Him. I don’t sense His presence.
This is something I’ve really been wrestling with. And this is real time. I don’t have the answers to what I’m going to talk about. I didn’t go through this 10 years ago and now I’m looking back in triumph. I still struggle.
The empty feeling
This empty feeling started with a sense that something just isn’t right in my life, and in my relationship with God. I mean I read the Bible, I go to church, I feel like I’m learning and even growing.
I’m loving my wife and kids better, being more self-controlled, and on and on.
But still…something’s just off.
I read the Bible and there’s all these passages about how a group of believers prayed and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit shook the building. Or I read about how Paul was so in tune with the Spirit that he followed His leading all over the place, planting churches and spreading the gospel to the ends of the known earth at the time.
I read those things then look at my own life — and I’m not seeing that. I’m not seeing anything supernatural.
Again, I go to church, I read the Bible, I pray, I even invite people to church, and surely that’s enough, right? So why do I feel so off? Why do I not see the Spirit at work in my life?
Have you ever felt like that? Do you feel like that now?
I couldn’t stand it, so I started reading the Scriptures and reading other books trying to figure it out. And before long I put my finger on it.
And what it was shocked me. Because it was there the whole time, I’d just been missing it.
So what was it?
Why I was feeling this way
What I found out was that I wasn’t seeing the Spirit in my life because I wasn’t sharing my faith. Let me say that again: I wasn’t seeing the Spirit in my life because I wasn’t sharing my faith.
First of all, nothing we can ever do is enough. Our salvation isn’t earned by what we can do, it’s earned by what Jesus did do.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Spirit is inside of us if we’re believers, the Bible is clear on that, so it’s not like He was gone. But at the same time, it sure seemed like He wasn’t very active. You might know exactly what I’m talking about.
Here’s why it works this way: The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to speak the gospel.
To speak the gospel. Don’t miss that. Meaning using our mouths to speak words to another person.
Not just invite someone to church, even though that’s a great thing to do and I encourage people to do that all the time, but actually speak the gospel to someone who doesn’t know Jesus.
That’s a big claim. But who cares what I say about it, let’s look at what God says.
Jesus’ amazing promise
And let’s start with the Great Commission. You may have read it a hundred times before, but don’t glaze over because I’m going to show you something you might not have noticed.
Remember, this is Jesus talking to the disciples following his resurrection. He said,
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
-Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
OK, so here we have Jesus commissioning his followers, and by extension you and me, to go all over the world and make disciples and baptize them. And then he gives us this amazing promise that he’ll be with us forever, to the end of the age.
And that’s the part I want to talk about.
When we read the Bible, context is king. Context, the words and paragraphs and chapters surrounding a particular verse give us insight into its meaning.
So look at where Jesus’ promise to be with us is located in the Great Commission. It’s at the end. So what comes before it gives us insight into what that sentence means.
Jesus is saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and when you’re doing that, I’ll be with you.” That’s a much different understanding than simply thinking “Jesus is with me” in some touchy-feely kind of way. And the implications are entirely different.
Now, making disciples first involves sharing the gospel with someone so there is a person to disciple. And that, of course, means we have to be sharing our faith.
If we’re not sharing our faith and discipling people, then we won’t sense Jesus’ presence in the way He intends it because we’re not doing what he asks.
We might be doing some good things, but we’re not doing the main thing He asked us to do — we’re not carrying out the Great Commission.
Still not convinced? OK, let’s look at another Great Commission passage.
Why we have the Spirit
The Great Commission is actually referenced in more than one place in the Bible, though most of us just think of Matthew’s version. Acts 1:8 is the last Great Commission passage.
Again, same deal, this is the resurrected Jesus speaking to his disciples, giving them one final command:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
-Acts 1:8 ESV
Context is king, remember? So pay attention to which words are located in which part of the verse.
When do we receive power? When the Holy Spirit comes upon us.
And why do we receive the Holy Spirit? To be Jesus’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Now you’re starting to see it.
That word witness? It involves giving verbal testimony, actually speaking words from your mouth that attest to the gospel. Believe me, I looked it up several times because part of me didn’t want it to be true.
Get this: every time the Holy Spirit fills believers in the New Testament it’s for the purpose of them proclaiming the Word of God. Acts is the primary book we see the Holy Spirit mentioned, and in every instance of the Holy Spirit filling a believer it’s for the purpose of proclaiming the Word of God.
Let’s take a quick survey:
- In Acts 2, the Spirit descends on the disciples and they begin speaking in tongues to the crowd, then Peter preaches the gospel and 3,000 are saved.
- In Acts 4, Peter is filled with the Spirit and preaches the gospel to the high priest and counsel that dragged him before them.
- Later in Acts 4, a crowd of believers is filled with the Holy Spirit and they continue to speak the Word of God with boldness.
- Acts 7, before Stephen, the first martyr is stoned, the Bible tells us he was full of the Holy Spirit after boldly speaking the gospel.
- Acts 9, Saul, who we know goes on to become the Apostle Paul, receives the Holy Spirit when Ananias lays hands on him for the purpose of boldly proclaiming Christ among the Jews and Gentiles.
- Acts 13, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel to the sorcerer Elymas.
“In every occurrence, the filling of the Holy Spirit is followed by an immediate proclamation of God’s glory”(Robby Gallaty, Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First Work).
Now remember, the Great Commission was not just for 11 men who lived 2,000 years ago. It is for every person who believes in Christ. Jesus speaks those same words to us and gives us that same commission here today.
If all of that is true, if Jesus’s presence is somehow linked to our activity in disciple-making and the Spirit’s power is promised when we’re witnessing to the gospel, then you have to ask yourself the same question I asked myself: Do you feel like you’re not sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit? Do you feel like something’s missing?
Well, have you shared your faith lately? Are you making disciples?
If not, then it makes perfect sense that you’re sensing a nearness to Christ.
Men, where are your men?
Not too long ago, I was reading a book that referenced an old booklet someone had given the author about discipleship. It sounded interesting, so I looked it up and found a PDF and started to read it.
Most of it was things I’d heard before. But towards the end I read something that made my heart drop. Here’s what I read:
“Men, where is your man? Women, where is your woman? Where is the one whom you led to Christ and who is now going on with Him.
Where is your man? Where is your woman? Do you have one? Search your hearts.
Ask the Lord, ‘Am I spiritually sterile? If I am, why am I?’ Where is your man? Where is your woman?
What will it take to jar us out of our complacency and send us home to pray, ‘God, give me a girl or man whom I can win to Christ, or let me take one who is already won, an infant in Christ, and try to train that one so that he or she will reproduce!'”
I read that and honestly just wanted to vomit. Because I knew the answer to those questions. And the reality was devastating.
How this is linked to suffering
What’s interesting is that we won’t get the suffering and persecution sections of the Bible if we aren’t sharing our faith. Have you ever noticed how much about suffering is in there?
Early on in my Bible reading, I just thought it didn’t really apply to us because we live in a country where it’s not all that hard to be a Christian. Not much is required to be a Christian in suburban America. It’s pretty easy if we’re being honest.
It’s not the same everywhere of course. ISIS spray paints the letter “N” on the homes and businesses of Christians, publicly identifying them and telling them they have a simple choice: convert to Islam, leave, or die. And they do mean die.
The New Testament is filled with things about persecution and the suffering that comes from sharing the gospel. That doesn’t sound fun, but that doesn’t mean we’re not called to it.
In fact, we’re promised it. 2 Timothy 3:12 should be wrestled with by every American Christian when they evaluate what their life is like. It says,
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
The Greek word for “all” means the same thing as the English word for “all.” It means all of us.
I don’t think the church in America gets the parts of the Bible that talk about suffering because we aren’t doing the primary thing which brings about persecution, and that’s sharing our faith.
Because when we share our faith, there will be people who reject us, who reject the gospel, who might not want anything to do with us. And when that starts happening, all of a sudden those passages about persevering and suffering make a lot more sense.
We can get so caught up thinking about the “us” part of Christianity that we forget the Great Commission is about spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.
And for the most part, that happens person to person, sharing your faith with someone you care about, multiplying the Kingdom one person at a time.